Are you a loving person?
I’m not talking about how you feel toward those you love. I’m talking about what you do.
Love is an action word, characterized by what you do, not how you feel. How you feel love is passive love. What you do that is loving is active love.
I’ve always had a certain conception of what active love is but wanted to see if I could find a little more clarity on the subject by going to the fount of all knowledge (Google, of course). There is surprisingly little content available on the subject on Google. The best definition I could find was from a Christian blog:
“Love is not simply warm feelings―it is instead an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Christ loves us? By helping when it’s not convenient, by giving when it hurts, by devoting energy to other’s welfare rather than our own, by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back.” – Biblebelievingchristians.com
The only thing I don’t like about this definition is that it implies a certain martyrdom, which I have spoken out against recently. In fact, I don’t believe that active love means you give at your own expense, that is, if it’s emotionally or psychologically damaging to you such as making you feel resentful. That makes you a martyr, not a loving person. I think the best examples that illustrate this distinction come from parenting.
For instance, parenting is all about doing things that are difficult, tiring, or frustrating with a positive attitude. Children require consistency and patience as they’re learning what the rest of us take for granted. They do not instinctively understand it’s not OK to hit, throw things, or scream when they’re frustrated. So it’s our job to reinforce that message in a kind, consistent manner, over and over and over and over again. These messages cannot wait until we’ve had a good night sleep, our headache goes away, we’ve finished our dinner, have gotten home from the Home Depot, or when it’s convenient and preferable for us. These messages require that we draw boundaries and even apply consequences to reinforce and teach the lesson in the moment that it is required.
Disciplining children is no fun at all. In the moment, it might be easier to just buy that toy for the child to stop them from screaming, but all you’re doing is reinforcing the bad behavior by rewarding it. As a result, the child will scream louder and longer the next time she wants something. We do not discipline and teach our children because we want to be nice or to be a martyr. Similarly, we do not play with them, change diapers, driving to soccer practice because we’re being nice. We do this labor of love because we love them and it’s in their best interest in the long run to learn self-control and proper behavior, to have a clean bottom, to learn about the world and their place in it.
The importance of teaching children these lessons in a kind and empathic manner cannot be overstated. If we resort to our own inclinations for childish behavior – screaming, spanking, blaming – to teach maturity, our children will rightfully view us as hypocrites and the lessons will be lost and even resented. It is not active love if we are doing the right thing but in a harmful, self-indulgent way.
So active love is not just for lovers. Nor is it just for family members or friends. Active love can be used for everyone and everything in our lives.
My definition of active love is to do the right thing for a person or organization, no matter how hard or difficult it is. I choose to give that love if I can do so freely, without resentment or expectation for reward, or I choose to decline if the personal cost is too high. Again, doing something while feeling resentment isn’t loving.
For a work colleague, active love means having a difficult conversation with them about how a project did not go well and what we can each do to improve the next time. For my house cleaner, it means telling them what is going well and where improvement is needed, rather than just firing them without explanation. For my students, it means enforcing the consequences of cheating, not studying or working hard, and letting a bad grade or other consequences stand. It also means, for my students, that I stay late and answer questions or tutor students that need additional help, even if I feel I’m too busy or tired. For my organization, it means speaking out against unfair policy and procedure. It also means working to change the organization for the better even if it’s not something that I’m promoted or recognized for.
Active love is critically important in intimate relationships. Active love means that if I see a loved one engaging in self-destructive, hurtful or harmful behavior, that I talk to them about it, even if it means risking conflict. It also means that I empathize with their situation without encouraging or rewarding the behavior in any way. Hardest for me is to let it go after that – no nagging or complaining about it. An easier path would be to just say nothing or just complain, neither of which is helpful or effective.
Our primary, intimate relationship is also there to help us grow up. We choose our romantic relationships based on our childhood wounds. Actively loving our partner and giving them the soothing, healing type of love that THEY need is simultaneously healing for ourselves. In this scenario, we are also the beneficiaries of the active love we give.
Turns out, giving to others – our time, our money – generates happiness, much more so than indulging ourselves. More money does not make us happier. Giving to others does. (Michael Norton, How to Buy Happiness)
In each scenario, it’s easier to do nothing, to say nothing, to give in, to indulge myself. Yes, I might be more popular and viewed as “nice” if I did nothing, said nothing, gave in. But that is not the right thing, the loving thing, to do.
Active Love Exercise – per Dr. Oz
“Use this tool when someone angers you, when you find yourself reliving a personal injustice, whether it was recent or in the distant past, or when you are preparing to confront a difficult person.
1. Concentration: Feel your heart expand to encompass the world of infinite love surrounding you. When it contracts back to normal size, it concentrates all this love inside your chest.
2. Transmission: Focus on the other person and send all the love from your chest to them, holding nothing back.
3. Penetration: When the Love enters the other person, feel it enter; sense a oneness with them. Now, if you relax you’ll feel all the energy you gave away returned to you.”